The Shape of Things

Wednesday, 19 May, 2004

Neil LaBute’s plays focus unmercifully on those disaffected with society, especially the young. His plays are always emotionally bruising as he strips away the pretences with which people try to cover their more ignoble motives. And he makes us question again and again the autonomy of the individual: Are we free to act as we please or are we shaped by society? In “The Shape of Things” he turns his attention to the question of art: What is conceptual art? What motivates the conceptual artist?

The play concentrates upon two characters Evelyn, a conceptual artist, and Adam, a nerdy but amiable student who works in dead-end part time jobs to pay for his college fees. They meet when Evelyn decides to vandalise a sculpture by spray painting a penis onto a male statue whose genitals have been covered by a plaster fig leaf. Adam is the museum attendant whose job it is to protect the piece from harm!

Adam quickly becomes besotted with Evelyn and is soon undergoing a transformation as he allows Evelyn to shape him into a fashionable, desirable young man. At her behest he stops biting his finger nails, replaces his glasses for contact lenses, works out at the gym, refits his wardrobe – he even allows her to persuade him to have cosmetic surgery on his nose. Evelyn seems equally transfixed by Adam has she moulds him to her image, especially as he seems so compliant.

However, not everyone is comfortable with the new Adam. Adam’s best friends, the soon to be married Phillip and Jenny, find it hard to relate to the overbearing Evelyn, and the beer swilling Phillip feels threatened by Adam’s new found sex appeal. As relationships between all four become further strained, Adam is forced to make a choice between his friends or his new girlfriend.

However, Adam is in for shock on the day that Evelyn presents her lecture and finished art project for her Phd concerning societies unhealthy obsession with perfectibility and how that obsession fixates on the external.

Alicia Witt is wonderful as the amoral Evelyn, she extrudes a petulant sexual charm and captivates with her aloof enigmatic manner. You sense this is a woman not to be trusted, but until the final moments you are never able to figure out why. Enzo Cilenti gives an outstanding performance as Adam as he slowly transforms from anorak nerd to good-looking dude, which makes his downfall all the more distressing. My only wish is that he could have captured more anger and anguish in the play’s final moments.

Simon Higlett’s set design looks like a piece of conceptual art, the props, chairs, beds, etc are carried on and off the stage by a conveyor belt, and the stage is displayed like a picture frame each scene with it’s own title. “Dining room”, “Bedroom” etc. Reminding us that LaBute’s play is about conceptual art, and the role of art and the artist in society.

Alan Bird

What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Provokes, fascinates and agitates." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "You could never warm to a play by Neil Labute,...But Webber's take on The Shape of Things makes it look almost humanist." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "In the end the play seems less a debate about modern art than a clever theatrical con-trick." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "This second-rate production, the show is worth seeing if you missed it the first time around." IAN SHUTTLEWORTH for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "The play's big twist continues to work even when you know what's coming." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Sharp, pointed revival." SUSAN ELKIN for THE STAGE says, "Fast-moving, witty play."

External links to full reviews from popular press
The Independent
The Guardian
The Stage
Daily Telegraph
Financial Times
The Times

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